By Jamie Wiggan
McKees Rocks council is considering new parking regulations that one dissenting member believes could hinder a $13 million development proposal.
Setting the change in motion, council approved legal advertising for an amendment to its zoning ordinance that would require new developments in the main commercial district to provide a baseline number of parking spaces.
Protesting the move, Councilwoman Liz Delgado said the regulations would prevent an interested developer from moving forward with plans to build a mixed-use commercial and residential building on the footprint of the former apartment complex at 708 Chartiers, razed by a fire in late 2017.
“In essence you are shutting down a $13 million development without hearing them out,” she said.
Councilmembers did not respond directly to Delgado’s concerns for the development, however solicitor Megan Turnbull said the amended ordinance would permit developers to seek a variance from the zoning appeals board should their proposals fall short of the new regulations.
Weighing in, Mayor Jack Muhr suggested the Chartiers Avenue proposal was hampered by other issues in addition to parking.
“They cannot build the building there because it’s too small, it’s in a flood plain, and there’s absolutely no parking whatsoever,” he said.
Interviewed after the meeting, President Archie Brinza said Delgado “exaggerated” the impact the new regulations will have on the proposal, and said he’d been in discussion with the developer to explore ways they could incorporate parking into their plans.
“We support development in this town,” he said.
Following legal advertisement, the new ordinance must also be reviewed by the planning commission before council takes a final vote to approve or reject it. The motion passed Feb. 25 also included a temporary mandate that would allow the borough to enforce the regulations before the ordinance is finalized, Turnbull said.
Details as to how many spaces new developments are required to have relative to their size were not discussed during the meeting.
Those defending the ordinance change during the meeting said the borough needs to protect residential parking, where narrow streets and limited off-street parking result in scarce availability in several sections of the town.
“You have to have your head buried in the sand if you don’t realize there’s an enormous parking problem in this town,” said Councilman Craig Myers.
Joining Delgado in protesting the motion, Councilwoman Sarah Harvey suggested the borough explore other ways to protect residential parking, such as expanding parking meters and enforcing permit-only zones.
“I think to push this ahead without further discussion is the wrong move,” she said.
Harvey put forward a motion to table the vote until a future meeting, but it was voted down 7-2. That vote ratio repeated again when councilmembers Nick Radoycis, John Malesnick, Joe Mixter, Craig Myers, Chas Maritz and Leslie Walker joined Brinza in supporting a move to advertise the amendment. Delgado joined Harvey in opposing the move.
Brinza said council may explore those options in addition to the new ordinance.
The ordinance amendment also drew criticism from a resident who delivered remarks ahead of the vote and cited a degree in urban planning among his credentials.
“This will be a detriment to development in McKees Rocks and will only serve to stagnate growth in the business district,” he said. “…It goes against all modern urban planning philosophy including the position of the American Planning Association.”